When our Program Committee for Inclusion Fusion was soliciting recommendations for this year’s Web Summit, Ben Conner’s name was submitted by more than one source. He’s a theologian (a graduate of Princeton Seminary) who has worked with adolescents for twenty years and currently runs a ministry to adolescents with developmental disabilities in Williamsburg, Virginia. He has taught courses at Union Presbyterian Seminary and at Memphis Theological Seminary through the Center for Youth Ministry Training. After reading Ben’s recently released book Amplifying Our Witness: Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities I’m very much looking forward to his video presentation for this year’s Web Summit.
In Ben’s book, he advocates for a “practice-centered” approach to discipleship of teens and young adults with developmental disabilities. Through including adolescents with developmental disabilities in traditional Christian practices (worship, hospitality, prayer, friendship) involving participation in a community of faith, a transformative effect on spiritual development can occur based upon intuition and impression that doesn’t necessarily correspond to our understanding of intellectual or psychosocial development. In Ben’s words…
Christian practices have a transformational quality related to a spiritual reality such that participating in Christian practices puts one in a position to recognize, experience and participate in God’s active presence for the world.
Ben asserts that the spiritual practices create “spaces” or “arenas” that put us into a position where we can be formed spiritually, and are particularly suited for the spiritual nature of persons with developmental disabilities, because there’s no intellectual capacity threshold necessary for participation in Christian practices. When I read Ben’s book, the thought that came to mind was the notion of “missional community” in which churches are purposeful and intentional about establishing environments in which all members can experience spiritual growth while using their gifts and talents in expanding the reach of the Kingdom.
I thought Ben did an excellent job of of communicating the theological foundation supporting inclusion of kids with developmental disabilities in the life of the church and the blessings that result from inclusive ministry. He brings both many years of experience as a Young Life Capernaum leader and his depth of knowledge as a theology professor to a discussion of the needs of a population long underserved within the church. He offers a number of practical strategies for serving teens with developmental disabilities within the church without becoming overly prescriptive.
Ben’s book explains WHY the church is called to serve kids with developmental disabilities while leaving the HOW to our God-given imagination and the working of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite quotes in his book…
“The problem is not that adolescents with developmental disabilities have cognitive impairments; the problem is a lack of imagination and an incomplete understanding of prayer on my part.”
Given the explosion of kids diagnosed with developmental disabilities, Amplifying Our witness is a worthwhile read for any church leader interested in the spiritual development of our youth. The book is concise and well-written…I read it over two late summer afternoons by the pool after our kids were back in school.
Amplifying Our Witness can be ordered through Ben’s Amazon author page, or through many fine Christian bookstores.
Ben, along with over 30 other leaders in the field of disability ministry will be serving as faculty for Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry’s second annual Special Needs Ministry Web Summit. Inclusion Fusion 2012 will be made available FREE OF CHARGE to pastors, church staff, volunteers and families everywhere from November 12th-16th. For an updated list of speakers, topics, links to speaker blogs and free registration, click here.